West Middlesex High boys basketball team did not play its first home game until after the first of the year, but competing at New Castle, Farrell and Youngstown’s Covelli Centre has served it well.
Witness West Middlesex’s 55-54 win over Fairview in last weekend’s District 10 Class AA championship game — at Edinboro University’s McComb Field House.
“Our schedule was built to play on the road, because we knew we’d eventually have some tough games, especially come playoff time,” related West Middlesex mentor Chad Mild.
Which makes Saturday’s PIAA playoff opener with Neshannock (18-6) — 7 p.m. at Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Field House — a virtual home game for the Big Reds (20-5).
In the last 3-plus seasons — during which West Middlesex has won 82 games (losing 25), a trio of D-10 titles, and advanced to the PIAA western regional finals (2013) and semifinals (2012) — the Big Reds have recorded a 6-1 ledger at their personal playground, SRU.
After losing to Rocky Grove in the 2011 D-10 title tilt (67-59) at Slippery Rock, the Big Reds rolled to back-to-back championship-clinching wins there (Kennedy Catholic, 41-38 in OT, 2012, and Lakeview, 71-65, 5-OT, in 2013).
West Middlesex’s lone loss during its last 7 showings at Morrow Field House occurred to Lincoln Park Charter (47-45) in 2012.
“It doesn’t matter who we play or where we play, we believe we can win, and hopefully, that confidence we’ve gained will pay dividends down the road, said Mild.”
Though having graduated fourth-fifths of last season’s starting lineup, West Middlesex is unmoved come March.
“Especially when you walk in, see the atmosphere, how electric it is there, the kids are comfortable,” Mild mused regarding the postseason. “Even though we have only one returning starter (Trey Staunch from last year), those kids were still part of that run, and they’re familiar with the preparation that went along with it in order to achieve what we did.
“But this year,” Mild emphasized, “they want their own identity; they want to achieve their own goals. But the confidence gained from lasty year, that helps a lot.”
The Neshannock Lancers like to launch from long range.
“They’re a lot like Fairview,” Mild assessed. “They have really good guards, and when they’re on (shooting-wise) that night, they can be hard to beat. I’m sure we’ll have to play thirty-two minutes of basketball to stay with them or even get a win.
“They’re super-well coached, and their guards are as good as any we’ve seen all year,” Mild added.
Conversely, that may mean Middlesex may match up well by nudging Neshannock from the inside.
“I think everybody knows we’re gonna go to Trey and Josh (Porterfield), that we play through them,” Mild admitted. “I like to think shooting from the paint is a much higher-percentage (shot). Even if we’re shooting well that night, I still like our chances to win by establishing our inside game first, then also shooting the ball (from the perimeter).”
Interestingly, the Big Reds have registered assists on 340 of their 526 made field goals. Ike Williams (71), Staunch (70), Ryan Dogan (55) and Andrew Long (50) are the leaders in assists.
“We do share the ball, starting with our point guard (Williams),” Mild said, “but we preach to everybody every night to find the open man, make the extra pass, because usually when you make the extra pass the shot’s easier, especially when you catch it in rhythm.”
Other significant postseason statistics: Middlesex has made 317 miscues (12.6 per game), the Big Reds have recorded 164 steals, and led by Staunch, Middlesex marksmen have made 72.1 percent of their free-throw attempts.